Rebels’ pitching the key heading into set against Tennessee
After successfully defending home-field in what was one of the most anticipated opening weekends in recent memory, the UNLV baseball team (4-0) takes on Tennessee in a three-game series.
The Volunteers (4-0) are a step up in competition for the Rebels, who are coming off of a four-game sweep of preseason Mid-American Conference favorite Central Michigan. It was the Chippewas’ pitching that UNLV had to worry about. In this series, however, the Vols represent a much more complete opponent.
Tennessee has outscored its opponents 36-7 to begin the season. Their pitching is much more unique. The Vols haven’t had a pitcher go past five innings this season, and have used as many as five pitchers in one game.
“It’s tough when they throw out a guy every two innings,” said centerfielder Joey Swanner. “You don’t get to see him twice and you can’t get in a groove and figure out what he’s trying to do.”
Tennessee’s opening day starter, freshman Hunter Martin, was pulled from the Vols’ first game due to a shoulder injury and is not expected to pitch this weekend. Outside of Martin, Tennessee’s rotation is deep, and its bullpen is even deeper.
Match that with how often the Vols score, you have a team not only capable of beating UNLV, but contending in a powerful Southeastern Conference.
The Rebels know they’ll have their hands full, but UNLV’s pitching staff isn’t intimidated.
“Our work ethic is great and all our guys are buying in,” said reigning Mountain West Pitcher of the Week Erick Fedde. “If our pitching staff throws the way we did last week, we shouldn’t have any issues.”
Chambers will throw Fedde and John Richy in games one and two, respectively. Kenny Oakley, who went six innings and struck out seven batters in his start, will move to the bullpen. Sophomore Bryan Bonnell will get the nod for UNLV in game three on Sunday.
The Rebels left Thursday morning on a plane to Nashville and then have another two-hour bus ride into Knoxville. They’ll arrive late at night Eastern Standard Time, with Fedde pitching Friday evening.
“That’s something you have to deal with no matter what,” Fedde said. It’s something I’ve gotten used to.”
Head coach Tim Chambers said that no one paid any attention to the amount of runs Tennessee put up. Not knowing how worthy of an opponent Purdue was, Chambers tended to focus on what UNLV needed to work on rather than what they need to stop.
The main focus was to zero-in on getting runners across home-plate. The Rebels left 10 runners on base in their game this past Sunday against CMU, and left the bases loaded twice in their double-header prior to that.
Patrick Armstrong, the team’s leader in batting average from a season ago, has gotten off to a woeful start, going 1-for-17 to begin his season. Contrary to what others may think, that leaves Chambers optimistic about his offense.
“[We won] four games without Patrick Armstrong doing anything,” Chambers said. “Once he gets it going … we’ll get it going.”
Although UNLV is playing on the road, there is a confidence that exudes out of its young squad. With a year under their belts, the Rebels know the pitching and hitting will eventually be on par with one another.
“We saw a lot of good swings,” Swanner said. “Our timing’s off a little bit, but it’s the first weekend. Nobody’s stressing out too much.”